Nancy House

How did you decide on pursuing degree in geoscience? Did you know about geoscience before you entered university?

My father was a petroleum Geologist. I always was interested in science. After deciding against an engineering school due to pointed comments about engineering not being a woman’s career, I applied for and a received a scholarship to become a secondary school science teacher. That was appropriate for women. During my third year at University of Wyoming my father got a posting in Singapore and he was able to bring family with him. While there I met a couple professors who were bird-dogging  a western geophysical crew on a project. One was Dutch and the other Canadian. The Canadian geophysicist invited me to spend some time on a seismic recording boat. I declined but returned to University of Wyoming and switched to geology with geophysics option.


How did you land your first position? (Through networking, applying to an ad, etc)

My first summer job was obtained by networking with my field camp colleagues. It was bird-dogging an electrical survey crew and reporting on the methodology and the results to a small independent geologist in Casper, Wyoming. The recruiters came to campus and I had two onsite interviews and one job offer as a field sales engineer. It didn’t offer the scientific challenge so I declined the offer. The second onsite visit I was told I was competing with Colorado School of Mines geophysicists, and had only spent one year getting the geology for a geophysics degree. I didn’t get the offer despite being highly recommended by my professors. I also was pretty noncommittal in my career aspirations hoping that someone would offer to send me to graduate school.


So I applied to graduate school and was accepted to Colorado School of Mines (CSM) for a masters in Geophysics. The second summer job was at Gulf Oil in Casper. The exploration manager was a friend of my father's and suggested that I couldn’t compete as a geophysicist with a Bachelors but indicated there was a summer internship available. I learned a great deal that summer then went off to graduate school.

Delivering opening remarks at SEG Annual Meeting 2010

Can you briefly describe your career progression?

I started off at Exxon Co, USA interpreting data in the Gulf of Mexico along with several others. As the only female graduate from the Masters program in Geophysics at CSM, I received offers from most of the major oil companies. I made decision matrices to help decide. Many of the recruiters who had interviewed me several years earlier at Wyoming were impressed with how much more focused I had become and what I expected from a career as an interpretation geophysicist. My time at Exxon was only 18 months, it felt like I was on a conveyor belt with many other geophysicists. I was unaware of the evaluation process, and felt like new hires were put through an impersonal standard process. Times were good and qualified geophysicists were in high demand in the early 1980s. I was with Exxon only a few weeks before the headhunter calls started. I was offered several position back in the Rocky Mountain area, one at Marathon research lab, where I would have had to complete a PhD within a year to get a raise. It was very educational in that I was taught how salary matrices work, and that headhunters are not necessarily interested in group career but in filling positions.


I eventually took a position as a geophysicist at Phillips Petroleum in Denver. The job was less siloed and I enjoyed the opportunity to learn on the job from good mentors. There were many challenges and the division geophysical manager arranged for all early career geophysicists to work several interpretation/mapping projects as a group with critiques and peer reviews in the process. This is where I learned some of the fundamental best practices in interpretation so that when workstations became prevalent the foundation was there.


After nearly nine year at Phillips and the bust of the middle 1980s I received a surprise headhunter call. It turned out to be Mobil. They had determined that the workforce of 2000 and beyond would be much more diverse and they would have to have qualified leaders for that workforce. I accepted a job in Midland, TX; was transferred to Oklahoma City and finally Dallas within the span of six years.


Good jobs were presented, some were decided for me. Each one was done with determination and enthusiasm for applying new techniques and doing the best possible job. One was as the geophysical specialist for the sub-salt which allowed me to work unique and challenging problems. The several challenging problems that we solved eventually earned me a promotion to the technical ladder , and designation as one of a handful of emerging technical leaders at Mobil. Eventually the Exploration Manager for my first position at Mobil offered me the job of my dreams working a larger technical evaluation contract in Southern Peru.


How has career progression been handled in your company/ies? For example, is it outlined or have you specifically applied for positions?

Career progression was generally handled in interviews but generally you had to be proactive once you got on the job. A supervisor should explain it to you, but you need to realize that you must be the one who distinguishes yourself. There are booklets given, and the annual review process is helpful in receiving feedback and rewards. The lack of transparency can be frustrating. I learned the most from reading a book that outlines how US corporations operate early in my career. I was frustrated until I learned that there are many unwritten rules and business etiquette that is not taught in the classroom. A good mentor and and open mind to learn how to play the game are essential.

China foothills conference Nanjing 2017

If you had to do it again, would you?

Absolutely, geophysics is a fascinating profession. I wish that I had learned about the unwritten rules of business earlier that I did, but I believe it kept me employed through many downturns and shifts in the industry.


If you could change anything in your career, what would it be?

I would have volunteered for projects more assertively. I would have recognized the opportunities and how they were presented earlier in my career before I understood how the business and the culture works.


What are the three best things about your job/career?

1. Interesting problems and science used

2. Great people

3. Rewarding career


What are the three worst things?

1. Fighting for equal opportunity

2. Poor management/supervisors

3. Unfair practices and humiliation of employees who are let go during downturns


How did you become involved with the Society of Exploration Geophysicists (SEG)? Can you describe your progression to president?

I started by becoming involved with committees, presenting papers, and getting involved with the local society at the right time. For SEG I first became involved in the Global affairs committee, served as session chair and published a number of papers or made presentations at annual meetings. Then in 2008 I was asked to stand for Denver Geophysical Society as president. At that time the SEG president nominated me to serve as general chair of the annual meeting in Denver in 2010. By 2011 I was nominated to run as secretary treasurer. I remained active with the finance committee through my election as president in 2017. The more I did the more I was asked to do. It comes down to investing time in our professionals society and continually trying to make it better.


Do you see, in either your work space or the industry in general, the place of women becoming more main stream, about the same as when you started, or worse?

It is somewhat better than when I started, but many biases still remain resulting in subtle discriminatory behaviours. These include predetermining a woman’s qualifications for a job base on bias to protect or help her. Things such as project management of a remote field operation or simply suggesting an operation drill site is not place for a woman because it’s rough out there and there might not be all of the creature comforts. Also not considering a woman for a foreign posting because she has small children or is a single mother is a discriminatory. The decision is hers to make and if there are circumstances she should be allowed to make them without fear of judgment.

Ending term as SEG Past President

What advice would you give young women starting a career in geoscience?

Learn all you can, always do the best job possible, keep learning, actively promote your successes, strengths and career aspirations.


Why/How is diversity important to you? Thoughts on what should be focused on or how to improve diversity within geoscience?

Some of the best results come from projects where diversity brings some conflicting ideas to light. The resulting solutions may be harder to achieve but are often better. Many of the scientific breakthroughs in geoscience and science in general were made by women. The different ways of thinking make for better solutions.


Why should others be talking about diversity and trying to improve things?

Because it is good for business bottom lines. Diversity in its own right is good but inclusion is just as important. Diverse ideas must all be brought out in order to succeed.

© 2020 by WGC

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